Evidence mounts for a ban on the whip in racing

Posted on the 25th November 2020

Two new studies from Australia argue against the use of the whip.

The first of these shows that the whip is ineffective and the other shows that the whip does, indeed, cause pain. Animal Aid is calling on MPs to take action and put pressure on the racing industry to ban the whip.

Please help horses by writing to your MP

At the start of this month, we reported how a new study on the whip, entitled ‘Is Whip Use Important to Thoroughbred Racing Integrity? What Stewards’ Reports Reveal about Fairness to Punters, Jockeys and Horses’, demonstrated that the use of the whip in racing does nothing to improve safety or enhance winning times.

Lead author Dr Kirrilly Thompson of the University of South Australia and co-authors Prof Paul McGreevy, Dr Bethan Wilson and Prof Phil McManus from the University of Sydney, and Dene Stansall, Horse Racing Consultant to Animal Aid, compared ‘whipping-free’ races (where whips are held but not used), to the mainstream ‘whipping-permitted’ races on the flat in Great Britain. The races were run between 2017 and 2019 inclusive.

The report concluded:

… there was no evidence that the use of whips contributed to steering, reduced the likelihood of interference, improved the safety of horse or jockey or made horses run faster overall. Our findings refute the culturally entrenched belief that whip use is essential for racing integrity, particularly in relation to steering, safety and riding the horse out on its merits. In other words, we found nothing to commend the use of the whip in horseracing that could (a) be related to integrity, (b) counter the scientific evidence that whip use is a welfare concern or (c) alleviate increasing public discontent with horseracing. As such, whipping-free races could be adopted more broadly by the industry internationally without compromising racing integrity or horse/jockey safety.

Additionally, we are pleased to report that another piece of research from Australia has been published this month, which shows that sensitivity in both horse and human skin is similar, and therefore that the whip can be said to cause pain to horses as it does to humans.  The paper, funded by RSPCA Australia, was co-authored by veterinary pathologist Dr Lydia Tong and her team and the Sydney School of Veterinary Science’s Professor Paul McGreevy. The study concluded that

… although horse skin is thicker overall than human skin, the part of the skin that is thicker does not insulate them from pain that is generated during a whip strike, and that humans and horses have the equivalent basic anatomic structures to detect pain in the skin.’

Animal Aid’s own research has shown that horses continue to be hit even more times than is already permitted. Despite the seven whip strikes allowed in Flat races, and eight in Jumps races, jockeys frequently breach this limit. Since racing resumed in Britain in June this year, there have already been more than 150 breaches of the whip rules by jockeys – the vast majority of which were for hitting horses more times than permitted.

In fact, the continued rule-breaking led the Horse Welfare Board to state ‘the overall number of offences (over 500 in 2018) remains unnecessarily high and the current penalties do not provide an adequate deterrent effect’, and to call for the regulator, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), to implement a consultation on the use of the whip.

The consultation has been shelved until 2021. Animal Aid would argue that, in light of the new evidence, it is time that MPs step in and insist that the BHA bans the use of the whip for any reason other than safety.

Please take action now by writing to your MP

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